Editorial

Administrative functions of Soverign functionaries are amendable under the Consumer Protection Act 1986 - NCDRC

August 11, 2013 11:50 AM

By Sajay Kumar Mishra

Administrative functions of Soverign functionaries are amenable under the Consumer Protection Act 1986.  It is held that since this is not a judicial function, it does not partake the character of a “sovereign function‟. It was also held by the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission New Delhi that – an applicant for certified copy of a judicial order, who deposits a fee for obtaining such copy is a “Consumer” within the meaning of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 and the processing of such application and the preparation and delivery of the copy in consideration of the copying charges/fee by the concerned staff attached to the court would be a service within the meaning of the Act. Deciding a Revision Petition No. 2273 of 2012 (DR. CHANDRAKANT VITTHAL SAWANT, PATEL VS. SHRI L.R. PILANKAR, INSPECTOR OF LAND RECORDS AND OTHERS)Hon’ble National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission New Delhi has ruled on 23-07-2013 that - 7. So far as the issue regarding the claim of the respondents discharging sovereign function as government servants is concerned, we do not agree with the view taken by the District Forum while rejecting the complaint. No doubt both the respondents are government servants and were carrying out their functions in their official capacity. However, carrying out of measurement of land for payment of prescribed fees as per the application made by the petitioner before the respondents cannot be regarded as a sovereign function. This is part of their administrative functions which they were required to perform for a prescribed fee. This function, therefore, cannot be called a "sovereign function‟. Commission further referred its Larger Bench Decision dated 8-7-2002 in Shri Prabhakar Vyankoba Aadone v. Superintendent Civil Court [R.P. No.2135 of 2000/1986-2004 Consumer 7211 (NS)] in which it was held that – while judicial officers may be protected from being arrayed in legal proceedings for their judicial function, they do not enjoy immunity for the administrative functions performed by them or by their staff and as such the grant of certified copies of orders of courts is not a sovereign function but is an administrative function. It was also held that since this is not a judicial function, it does not partake the character of a „sovereign function‟. It was also held by this Commission in that case that an applicant for certified copy of a judicial order, who deposits a fee for obtaining such copy is a “Consumer” within the meaning of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 and the processing of such application and the preparation and delivery of the copy in consideration of the copying charges/fee by the concerned staff attached to the court would be a service within the meaning of the Act.

9. The term ‘service’ in Sec.2(1)(o) of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 (‘Act’) contemplates any service which is rendered for a consideration. Such services may be for any commercial activity and may also relate to any of the services as indicated under Sec.2(1)(o) of the Act. For instance, a subscriber to a Provident Fund scheme has been held to be a consumer and the processing of his claim by the Regional Provident Fund Commissioner to be a service within the meaning of the Act. (Regional Provident Fund Commissioner Vs. Shiv Kumar Joshi (2000) 1 SCC 98.) 10. The decision of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in S.P.Goel vs. Collector of Stamps, Delhi (1996) 1 SCC 573 which held that a person who presents a document for registration and pays stamp duty does not become a consumer and that the officers appointed under the Indian Stamp Act, 1899 do not render any ‘service’ under the Consumer Protection Act is in the context of the finding of the court that Collector of Stamps performs a judicial function. The decision itself indicates that “as far as the officers of the court are concerned the position is a little different”. In S.P.Goel, the Supreme Court was not considering the question of other officers. It is significant that the above decision has been noticed in the later decision in Regional Provident Fund Commissioner vs. Shiv Kumar Joshi (2000) 1 SCC 98 @ 105 where it was held that the facility provided by the Regional Provident Fund Commissioner is a ‘service’ under the Act.

11. Any person who pays money as the price or cost of goods and service is covered under the comprehensive definition of the word ‘consumer’. (Morgan Stanley Mutual Fund vs. Kartik Das (1994) 4 SCC 225 @ 239, para 26. Lucknow Development Authority vs. M.K.Gupta (1994) 1 SCC 243 @ 253 and 255.)

12. The application for the certified copy of an order made by a court, its processing and its delivery are governed by statutory provisions. In particular, the following statutes and rules apply:

(i) Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 : Order XX Rule 20 and the rules made thereunder. (ii) Rules of the concerned High Court regarding application for certified copies and the preparation and delivery of such copies. (iii) The Court Fees Act, 1870, Sec.6 read with Schedule I (Entry No. 6) thereof.

The above functions are governed by statutes and are statutory administrative functions. Thus, the failures/omissions in the performance of these functions is amenable to judicial review.

13. It may be noted that the concept of sovereign function has undergone changes and in a welfare state, where the activities of the government extend to several spheres, the distinction between sovereign and non-sovereign for the purpose of immunity has largely disappeared. (N.Nagendra Rao vs. State of AP (1194) 6 SCC 205 @ 235, pr. 25; Common Cause vs. Union of India (1999) 6 SCC 667 @ 716; Chairman, Railway Board vs. Chandrima Das (2000) 2 SCC 465 @ 485, pr.41, and State of A.P. Vs. Challa Ramkrishna Reddy (2000) 5 SCC 712 @ 726-727.)

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